Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

SIX months ago, Russia’s direct military intervention in Syria surprised the international community. It has once again surprised the world by announcing its sudden military withdrawal (partial though) from the war-ravaged country. From a military point of view, when a country especially a superpower intervenes in another and later pulls out its forces without a clear victory, it is usually taken as mission unaccomplished.

The Syrian civil war or Syria’s failed Arab Spring had become a tragedy unprecedented in modern history. Due to the level of destruction in Syria, its people are willing to accept any solution that could help restore peace in the country. Many including the United States expected a speedy end to the uprising in Syria, just like it ended in Egypt. The international community was expecting that the Syrian despot would realize that he was no longer popular among the masses and to avoid further bloodshed of innocent people he would voluntarily leave. But that did not happen. However, with the passage of time it had become clear that Assad did not care about the destruction of the country and deaths of innocent Syrians, he proved to be a power-hungry dictator whose only concern was to remain at the helm in Syria. Two years into the crisis, the world saw light at the end of the tunnel when US President Barack Obama received intelligence report about Assad’s intentions of using chemical weapons against his own people. Obama responded to the reports by saying that using chemical weapons was a red line. Well, the line wasn’t even pink.

When it was confirmed that chemical weapons were used the United States moved its mighty naval force and was ready to strike. Russian ships left their base in Tartus but there was no show. Just one day before the much-anticipated strike, it was no-go for American airstrikes. It was like a reward for Assad. As time passed, hundreds of thousands of people died in Syria, many more got injured and millions were displaced. Now Syrians are not being killed or harassed only by the regime; Daesh, Jabhat Al-Nusra, Hezbollah and other gangs that took over many territories in Syria are also targeting them. Syria is in utter chaos.

Later on, it was revealed that President Barak Obama and Russian President Putin had decided that if there were a high profile show of removal of chemical weapons then the United States would not strike. The removal of chemical weapons didn’t change the behavior of Bashar Assad and he continued using barrel bombs. But, the resistance continued against Assad’s forces and the rebels and opposition forces continued to control more land. And now, here comes the Russians.

The arrival of the Russians raised the moral of the Syrian president and as more Russian strikes and sorties took place, Syrian government forces regained more control in the western part of Syria. The Russian presence was a reward for Assad, but apparently the party is over for the despot. Now, the Russian forces are leaving Syria at a time when Syrian peace conference is being held in Geneva, Switzerland. After the Russian announcement regarding a full or partial pullout from Syria, it was announced that the opposition was willing and ready to negotiate with the Syrian government. So, what is the reason behind the sudden Russian pullout?

One reason for the decision could be the cost of military deployment in Syria. Many analysts say that the cost is high even though Russia had used less-expensive conventional weapons. Many believe that there must be a deal to guarantee a lasting cease-fire to give all parties room to negotiate.

But what did the Russians accomplish in six months and from 9,000 sorties? Things are still the same on the ground. No one for sure knows about Assad’s gains and many say that with the Syrian intervention Russia told the world that it was still a superpower and that Moscow did not betray its allies. In other words, there must be something in the making for Syria and its people. Could it be that the pullout is a deal being struck with the American administration? Many in the US government think that America should have intervened at an earlier stage of the conflict. But, it was clear since Aug. 30, 2013 that the American administration was not ready to be part of a conflict in the Middle East at a time when the US was already involved in two other Middle Eastern conflicts.

Afghanistan and Iraq are still in the mind of the American administration. Now, the only choice the Syrians have is just to wait and see the outcome of the Geneva conference. As for the Russian intervention, it was the innocent civilians who paid the price of a conflict that they wish didn’t start in the first place.

Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. Mission Accomplished? reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.